Tuesday, October 4th, 2011 12:00 PM
There are many moments during "Botanica," the evening-length work performed by the dance company Momix, when the stage pictures trick and dazzle your eyes. Even though you know humans are manipulating the puppets, props and costumes at their command, the images evoke a sense of wonder.
The arresting visual aspects of "Botanica" were on bountiful display Saturday at Akron's E.J. Thomas Hall, where the company of dancer-illusionists performed its lush production more › under the auspices of the hall, DanceCleveland and the University of Akron's Dance Program.
Momix has specialized in inventive mixes of dance and images since 1981, when Moses Pendleton left the contemporary dance company Pilobolus to unleash his own, fertile imagination. In addition to transformative physical attributes made popular by Pilobolus, Momix embraces ingredients from the realms of art, theater and cinema.
In conceiving "Botanica," Pendelton and his resourceful team of collaborators took inspiration from a quote by Belgian poet and playwright Maurice Maeterlinck, who wrote of a plant's need "to approach another kingdom, to enter a moving, animated world."
An ode to the seasons, "Botanica" enters these worlds with alacrity, depicting various forces of nature in scenes that unfold in mysterious and often magical ways. An enormous dinosaur skeleton spits out a female and then swallows her. Birds sail across the stage, propelled by roller skates. Video projections mirror onstage activity, doubling the intriguing meeting of bodies and paraphernalia.
The marvelous dancers of Momix are called upon to negotiate all sorts of intricate assignments, many while hidden beneath billowing fabric, dressed as flowers that bloom before our eyes or, in one of the most dazzling sequences, connected to one another as centaurs on the frisky loose.
Part of the delight of watching "Botanica" is trying to decipher the methods used to achieve the effects. Only after the dancers break through those fluttering waves, for instance, do we realize how much they've contributed to the imagery. Numerous other extraordinary feats of design and motion pique our curiosity.
But "Botanica" doesn't always deliver once the processes are revealed. As the fragmented scenes – most set to eerie and hypnotic New Age music – continue the journey, choreography only occasionally occupies center stage. The production's ingenious amalgam of costumes, lighting and videos tends to dwarf the dance element, despite the polish and energy the 10 Momix members lavish on the piece.
Enough of "Botanica" is striking that it's possible to surrender to the luxurious garden of theatrical creativity without bemoaning the dearth of significant choreographic material. When the high-energy Momix dancers return to the stage at evening's end flapping long orange appendages, like virtuoso arachnids, we feel the excitement of entering Maeterlinck's animated world.
RELATED COMPANY: MOMIX
Monday, October 3rd, 2011 2:00 PM
By Kerry Clawson
There are multiple fantastical moments in Momix's Botanica that make you want to scratch your head and ask, "What kind of mind is capable of coming up with this stuff?"
The evening-length dance, an often-stunning visual celebration of nature and its four seasons, comes from the wild imagination of mastermind Moses Pendleton, Momix's founder, artistic director and choreographer. He was inspired by his own flower gardens on his Connecticut more › property to create a magical botanical piece that has dancers/illusionists transforming into oozing worms, crawling slugs, beautiful flowers and even rocks that become animate.
The show, which premiered in 2009 in Connecticut and played Saturday night at E.J. Thomas Hall in Akron, kicked off DanceCleveland's 2011-12 season.
Its shifting scenes presented a seamless flow of "natural" wonders, with the 10 acrobatic dancers aided by an intricate combination of technology, including huge projections, live video cameras, incredible lighting and special props.
Props feature puppetry
Botanica begins with a huge white rose projected onto the theater backdrop that recedes into the background as a large river of icy-looking silk flows rapidly across the stage. These torrents of melting ice take on an eerie effect as the forms of dancers can be seen rising beneath, with individuals at times standing at an angle, straining to surface as the ice continues to flow.
Puppetry, created by Michael Curry of The Lion King fame, is important in Botanica's props category. That includes a large, white, billowing "fantasy tree-flower'' in the glacial scene, as well as an awesome triceratops puppet that a female dancer rides in on in another scene. Pendleton touches on the viciousness of the natural world when the triceratops eats the woman, who hides within its ribs.
It takes a special kind of dancer to handle the various props in Botanica, from flower skirts to fall tree branches. Dancers also contort into unnatural positions for extended periods of time in this dance, including those portraying the back ends of mythological centaurs. Two dancers create each centaur, with the black-clad dancer in back leaning over during the whole scene to hang onto the front, erect dancer's waist. The centaur partners work their four legs elegantly in tandem to create the movement of a horse.
That's just a small part of the wonderful whimsy of this highly entertaining work, which has thrilled audiences around the world.
Movements mirror nature
Pendleton, a co-founder of Pilobolus, founded his for-profit Momix company 31 years ago in Connecticut. Botanica has some elements of Pilobolus-style shape shifting, including a witty, funny black-lit section where dancers' disembodied, neon appendages create a variety of patterns and animal shapes against the darkness.
But unlike some of Pilobolus' dance theater work, Botanica thankfully does not have elements of clowning. All of the dancers' movements serve to enhance the myriad illusions of the natural world, enabling the images they create to go beyond mere spectacle.
One scene most reminiscent of an elaborate circus routine comes as a female dancer wears a tent-like contraption on her head with streams of beads coming down around her.
She's referred to in Pendleton's program notes, written as a poem, as "the Beaded Web," rotating and whirling in awe-inspiring configurations.
Music ranges from bird calls to classical Vivaldi to techno beats in this dance, where audiences learn to expect the unexpected. One of my favorite sections came with a solitary dancer moving supine on a large, raked mirror, which created cool tricks of the eye every time she slowly bent her limbs. The symmetrical visual made one think of a seed beginning to germinate.
Later, three couples were so closely and lyrically entwined in their floor dance, they appeared to be shoots emerging from the ground.
Flowers integral to dance
Pendleton's love of flowers is an integral part of Botanica, including four women in feathered, beaded sunflower headpieces that featured the most traditional, balletic movement. Unexpectedly, they became skirts that moved lower and lower as each dancer's legs "grew'' into the flowers' stems.
The least-inspiring part of Botanica, unfortunately, comes near the end, as the full ensemble performs with branches of fall leaves. But no one could forget the fabulous thunderstorm visuals earlier, created with live video and ending with a pair of dancers enveloped in large white sails of fabric swirling up like funnel clouds.
RELATED COMPANY: MOMIX
Thursday, September 29th, 2011 9:00 AM
Momix dancers bring flora, fauna to life
By Kerry Clawson
Beacon Journal staff writer
It would be an understatement to say that choreographer Moses Pendleton is a nature lover.
He both reveres nature and lives at one with it in Washington, Conn., where he has a rural property and a turn-of-the-century Victorian home surrounded by flower gardens, woods, fields and a lake.
Pendleton, founder and artistic director of the 31-year-old Momix dance company, spends his more › afternoons dreaming with his sunflowers, which are a great source of inspiration for both his dances and his photography. Home and work are combined in one tranquil setting, where an old barn has been converted into a studio for his dance company, with its offices on the lower level. In a recent phone interview, Pendleton spoke from his wrap-around porch, where he was taking in the beauty and color of his Russian mammoth sunflowers, which he has grown to 18 feet.
"Flowers definitely have a language and something to tell us, but they don't have a voice, and maybe in Momix's own small, humble way, we've given them a voice."
Flowers are featured heavily in Momix's evening-length dance Botanica, which the company will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at E.J. Thomas Hall to kick off DanceCleveland's 2011-2012 season. (Call 330-972-7570 for tickets.) The company will be transformed into flora, fauna and even prehistoric creatures as audiences are transported by Pendleton's fertile imagination through the rhythm of the seasons and the evolution of the world.
The dance uses special lighting, costumes, puppets and projections to make connections between human and nonhuman world. In this way, Pendleton says, he and his dance troupe can bring his garden to people in cities throughout the world for Momix's own versions of the four seasons.
"It's been very influenced by … what you might find if you were taking a kind of magical walk in a botanical garden and were surprised by what nature has to offer, if you open your eyes and your ears and allow it to happen," Pendleton said of Botanica, which premiered in Torrington, Conn., in 2009 and has been met with awe and enthusiasm from audiences since.
Pendleton's work on Botanica allowed him to combine his two great passions: the natural world and the world of theater. His 2-acre marigold garden, planted in the shape of a giant sun with 16 rays, was the inspiration for the section of the dance titled "Four Tutus." Here, female dancers don four deep orange tutus stacked on top of each other to create the puffy look of the marigold.
Pendleton starts with the visual image, builds the costume so the dancers can metamorphose into that image of nature, and then adds the music and the choreography.
In Botanica, vegetable, animal and mineral are all created by the human form, including worms that turn the soil in March, "preparing the soil for birth."
As night crawlers, dancers wear black, flexible corrugated sewer pipe on their arms, and must learn to crawl. Identifying with these natural objects, even the rocks, is key for the dancers, so Pendleton gets them weeding in his garden.
"Sometimes it's difficult for dancers to play in the roles of rocks and worms," Pendleton said. "I try telling the dancers they should find their soul in the soil."
It's all about paying attention to your natural environment, the choreographer said: "Why have a backyard if you don't go out in it? Why have a dance company in the country if you don't use the country to energize the dance?"
Botanica starts in the dead of winter with a white landscape. Fans make fabric turn above as dancers move beneath in the glacial scene. Evocative imagery moves through the torrents of spring waters, Bacchanal midsummer and the falling leaves of autumn, all created by dancers/illusionists.
The Momix troupe that will perform in Akron this weekend will include five men and five women. A second troupe will soon perform in Spain and Italy for six weeks. The popular company has worked on stages throughout the world and in film and TV, including a national commercial for Hanes underwear.
Pendleton, 62, one of the founding members of Pilobolus at Dartmouth College in 1971, broke off from that company to form Momix in 1980. The name comes from the choreographer's farm roots: It's a powdered milk supplement for veal calves. Pendleton says he makes his own daily shake with blueberries, yogurt and Momix, and we're not sure if he's kidding.
These days, he prefers to stay home in Connecticut and talk to his flowers. He's preparing another photography show and also has made his own movie, shooting his flowers at high speed in the early morning with a high-definition camera. In this way, the vibrant blooms become personified.
"It's really a ballet with no dancers," Pendleton said. "The wind shows you how sunflowers can dance."
RELATED COMPANY: MOMIX
Wednesday, September 28th, 2011 12:00 PM
Momix Comes to E.J. Thomas Hall
Time for modern-dance fans to get their freak on: Momix - the internationally renowned troupe of dancer-illusionists operating under the direction of founder-choreographer Moses Pendleton - comes to Akron's E.J. Thomas Hall tonight for one 8 p.m. performance. On the bill: Botanica, a visually stunning mix of puppetry, strobe lights, and fantastic costumes set to an eclectic score that borrows from Vivaldi and bird more › songs alike. Known for its athleticism and physicality, the 30-year-old troupe grew out of Pendleton's early involvement with Pilobolus Dance Theater; Momix has since gone on to performances on stages worldwide, along with appearances on television, in movies, and an IMAX film. Tonight's performance is presented by Dance Cleveland, one of the nation's few organizations dedicated solely to presenting modern dance. Tickets range from $10 to $50, and can be had online or by phone. - Cicora
198 Hill St., Akron, 330-972-7570,
RELATED COMPANY: MOMIX
Thursday, September 22nd, 2011 12:00 PM
DOWNTOWN AKRON - The dance company MOMIX has been mesmerizing audiences since 1981, and DANCECleveland will present the dancer-illusionists Oct. 1 at 8 p.m. at The University of Akron's E.J. Thomas Hall.
When MOMIX Artistic Director Moses Pendleton was asked in a telephone interview recently what the audience can anticipate during the performance, he said, "Tell them to expect the unexpected." His productions tend to conjure just that response, for Pendleton more › mixes dancers seamlessly with puppets, supplies from hardware stores and elaborate and overdone costumes. He then turns the performance into a highly visual and mesmerizing experience.
Pendleton gives his dancers a great deal of credit and praise. He bought CVC pipes for the work "Botanica," which will be performed in Akron, and stuck the dancers' arms in them and then told them to learn how to move around and make them work. One headdress for the production weighs 20 pounds and is huge, he said. A dancer has to be both strong enough and agile enough to whirl with the contraption on and make it look right to the audience, he said.
Part of the fun of watching MOMIX is figuring out where the dancer leaves off and the costume or scenery begins, Pendleton said. Some pieces are done on a completely darkened stage with dancers in glowing costumes.
In "Botanica," the audience will see a dancer hidden in the belly of a dinosaur skeleton from where he makes the beast lumber along, but also interact with another dancer in a little pas de deux (duet). Some of the creations the audience will see on stage are women dressed as oversized marigolds and men as jittery hornets, as well as both dressed as night crawlers.
Pendleton said the work follows the pattern of the four seasons, beginning in the dead of winter and flowing through autumn leaves, thereby completing the cycle. In the choreographer's world view, however, nature has its living out, its unfolding, to do and therefore can be as alarming as it can be charming to see. Through Antonio Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" score mixed with some off-the-wall techno music, MOMIX will create lots of "atmosphere" and "tone" of nature having its full-flowing way in the world, he said.
"Botanica" is divided into 24 scenes, each of which has its own arc of meaning (since there really is no narrative value in the piece). Notes from a verse that Pendleton likes is in the playbill to set up the mood and brief outline for what the audience will see. It'll probably be helpful to follow along in order to "get it" during the performance, he said.
Pendleton said it took a year and a half to put "Botanica" together via a series of workshops in various places around the country. The choreographer said he would generally "build pictures" in his head of what he wanted to accomplish and present, and then set about figuring out the rest. Many things he tried ended up being discarded, he said. Pendleton said at the moment he is going through his "discard" file and looking for things to use in upcoming productions.
Ticket prices start at $10 and are available through TicketMaster at www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 800-745-3000 or at the Thomas Hall Box Office or by calling 330-972-7570.
Roger Durbin is professor emeritus of bibliography at The University of Akron and board director of the Dance Critics Association. To contact him, email email@example.com
RELATED COMPANY: MOMIX